Singing to a different tune: London’s past and present

I have been imagining the places in Jean Rhys's quartet of urban novels of the 1920's and 1930's as points of surfacing and disappearance. Mapping out the locations in the books as a journey through London and Paris. As I walk, I absorb myself in the books, thinking in tangents and asides; seeking out reflections on significant themes and passages, recurrent symbols and ideas. As points of departure from which to write, I cover these distances just to reach a state of mind.

Eugène Atget

Atget’s project to photograph a disappearing Paris, places him in the tradition of street photography and the flâneur, observing the city, preserving and capturing its details and subjects. His photographs capture a moment contained within the spaces of a Paris in flux. They capture the transitory, fleeting glimpses of courtyards, streets, shop windows, interiors and reflections.

Clothes/transformations

I am walking through central London thinking about clothes. The territory of the flâneuse, stopping to look at the window displays and the passers-by; catching a glimpse of reflections, the light and the shadow. Clothes in Rhys are connected to her use of literary devices such as mirrors and doubles, to her interest in subjectivity and existential uncertainty, and to status and political positioning. Encoded within Rhys's city novels are the subtle linkages of economy and sexual encounters, as well as contemporary anxiety around women in public spaces.

Street music

I wondered if it might be possible to tell a story through those songs alone, the sounds of the streets, and the popular music Rhys and her protagonists listen to. [...] a trail of itinerant city life winds its way through the books; the presence of transient figures who drift in and out of the narrative, like music from the streets drifting in through windows, troubles the already tenuous identities of Rhys protagonists and their uncertain status.

Violette

Leduc's attentiveness to her marginal subject, and the way she writes about the city reverberate with me. Like the transient figures in Jean Rhys's novels, she exists in the same fine line between inside and outside; and occupies the city as another layer of its movement. She exists side by side with the residents of the city, the passersby; and yet is so invisible. They only see her when she reaches out her hand to beg...